MONTH TWO with Toyota’s updated 86 GT and, interestingly, we’ve not (willingly) spurned it in the car park for more comfortable alternatives – like we might have, once the novelty had long worn off, with the ‘original’ car. That’s because the 86 is now a much easier gadget to live with on a daily basis, owing mostly to the softened, more grownup ride making it more than bearable over bumps at urban speeds.
It seems to have come at a small cost, however, for those only interested in pure, uncompromised driving thrills. We might try to find a stock, original car for some backto- backs later, as we’re talking very minor differences here, but a decent drive in our little 86 GT made us wonder if the slightly softer suspension has, by the smallest amount, blunted rather than sharpened the 86’s responses.
And perhaps the changes have even contributed to a new sensation of disconcerting roll oversteer at higher speeds, exacerbated by the GT’s stock 16-inch Yokohama dB Decibel tyres – which, grip-wise, fall off a cliff, rather than down a slope.
Which can be, err, unexpected. From a driving perspective, the tyres don’t feel as fit for purpose as the rest of the car, but fortunately this is, of course, easily fixed.
All that aside, we’re relieved to report that the updated 86, and BRZ, remain the most fun cars you can buy new for under $40K. In fact, provided your idea of thrills in a car isn’t fourth-gear burnouts, these cars are almost as much fun as you can have on four wheels, M full stop. Particularly in GT guise for the 86, along with a certain cheap-and-honest feeling about the interior, when first getting the basic key – which looks like it’s shared with entry-level Yarises and Corollas – you have to stop your brain defaulting to Hertz mode. Or not, if you own it.
We had forgotten just how fun these cars can be. The front end remains one of the best in any sports car on sale; the seats are huggy; the driving position spot-on; there’s throttle-oversteer on command, provided the rear tyres already have some lateral load; and the pedals make heel-and-toeing a breeze.
There’s also a handbrake perfectly located for motorkhana lovers, and when you’re up the engine, this is still a reasonably quick car, if not mind-blowingly so.
The new Track mode ESP is also hugely welcome and revelatory for anyone used to the original 86’s graunchy, clumsy chassis electronics. However, for many owners, even Track mode might begin to feel a tad conservative, and it’s testament to the 86’s friendliness that you may feel entirely confident turning the ESP all the way off.
In terms of daily driving, a few of the old 86 gripes remain, such as it being hard to feel the clutch’s bite point; the engine always snoozing at anything under 6000rpm; and the interior, particularly in the GT, being full of scratchy plastics and cheap switches, although Toyota has done well to hide them or make them at least look cool. And the interior of the GT does feel a tad less plain now with the double-DIN TFT infotainment display – effectively from the GTS, sans satnav. Then there’s the cruise control, indicator and wiper stalks whose gizzards would not surprise us to share part numbers with Toyotas from the early 2000s. As ever, the 86 is not ear porn, either.
But one of the main gripes has been remedied, that being the tiring, pogo-stick ride of the original car.
The 86 is still no VW Golf GTI, but it’s a big improvement – and makes it a much better car 95 per cent of the time. Even if, it seems, it’s at a slight cost to the other five. – DC